Safer Alternative for Childhood Asthma
Children with mild to moderate asthma may experience decreased symptoms using the supplement Pycnogenol™, reports a study in the Journal of Asthma (2004;41:825–32). Pycnogenol™, a mixture of bioflavonoids and phenolic compounds derived from the bark of the French maritime pine tree (Pinus maritima, Pinus pinaster), has been shown to possess potent anti-inflammatory, anti-allergic, antioxidant, and antiviral properties.
Asthma is an inflammatory condition of the airways characterized by symptoms such as wheezing, coughing, chest tightness, and difficulty breathing. Two main types of asthma are recognized: the most common form is caused by exposure to allergens such as dust mites, pollen, pet dander, mold, and environmental pollutants like cigarette smoke. This type of asthma is usually seen in people with a family history of the disease, or a personal or family history of other allergic conditions such as eczema and hay fever. During an asthma attack, inflammatory substances (histamine, leukotrienes, and others) are released, resulting in spasm of the muscles surrounding the airways, swelling of the air passages, and mucus secretion. The other form of asthma may be caused by drug or chemical exposures or by respiratory tract infections. The mechanism leading to this type of asthma is poorly understood.
Untreated, asthma may be life threatening. Asthma treatment usually involves the avoidance of allergens; for example, by cleaning the living area with a HEPA-filter vacuum, using allergen-impermeable covers on bedding, and minimizing exposure to second-hand smoke. Inhaled corticosteroids such as triamcinolone (Azmacort™) and leukotriene modifiers like zafirlukast (Accolate™) may be prescribed to reduce the number and severity of asthma attacks. Albuterol (Proventil™) is a drug used for the immediate relief of an asthma attack (known as rescue medication). While these medications may help relieve asthma symptoms, they are not without side effects. Zafirlukast may cause nausea, diarrhea, or liver failure. Inhaled corticosteroids can cause sore throat and fungal infections of the mouth. Albuterol may cause irregular or rapid heartbeat.
The new study investigated the use of Pycnogenol™ in 60 children and adolescents (6 to 18 years old) with mild to moderate asthma. The participants received either 1 mg of Pycnogenol™ per pound of body weight per day for three months or a placebo. Each day, the participants measured their peak expiratory flow rate (a measure of how fast air can be exhaled from the lungs and an indicator of the severity of asthma), rated their symptoms, and recorded the use of rescue medications. Urinary leukotriene levels were also measured at the beginning of the trial and monthly thereafter.
Pycnogenol™ resulted in significant improvements in peak expiratory flow rates, significantly less use of rescue medications, fewer asthma symptoms, and lower levels of urinary leukotrienes compared with baseline. The placebo group did not show significant improvement in any of these measures at any point in the study. No side effects were noted in either group.
Previous trials have shown that Pycnogenol™ is effective in treating adult asthma. The results of this trial suggest that it is also a safe and effective treatment for childhood asthma. Despite the potential benefit of this supplement, it should not be considered a substitute for standard medication, and people with asthma should not discontinue their medication without talking to their doctor.
Kimberly Beauchamp, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Rhode Island and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. She is a co-founder and practicing physician at South County Naturopaths, Inc., in Wakefield, RI. Dr. Beauchamp teaches holistic medicine classes and provides consultations focusing on detoxification and whole-foods nutrition.
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